Refurbishing An Inherited Pete Donegal Rocky # 999 Rhodesian Pipe.

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

Having just completed the refurbishing of S & R Rhodesian pipe with a chubby shank, I decided to work on another classic iconic shaped pipe from Peterson’s; a Donegal Rocky # 999. This pipe came to me from a huge lot of inherited pipes that were once loved by my beloved Grandfather. I selected to line up this pipe for restoration as this time around I wanted to add Rhodesian shaped pipes to my rotation and preferably with a small chamber as I am slightly low on my stock of tobacco what with the government banning import of all forms of tobacco!!

The stummel of this pipe has beautiful scraggy rustications and it sure does feel good to run your fingers over the surface of the stummel. There is a patch of smooth briar surface starting at the foot of the bowl and ending half way off the shank end and bears the stampings on this pipe. It is stamped towards the foot end as “DONEGAL” over “ROCKY” over “A PETERSON’S PRODUCT” over “MADE IN THE REPUBLIC” over “OF IRELAND” and finally in the right hand top corner towards the shank end is the shape code “999”. The shank end is adorned with a sterling silver band. The silver band bears a group of three hallmarks marks, each in an escutcheon; the first is a seated Hibernia denoting Dublin Ireland, the second is a harp denoting the silver fineness, and the third is a fancy letter “S” denoting the year. The hallmarks are slightly worn out but discernible under high magnification under bright white light. Further to the left of these hallmarks are three cartouche each bearing, from left to right, letters “K” “&” and “P” over “STERLING” over “SILVER”Having had the good fortune of researching and working on a few early Peterson’s pipes, I had read that the Donegal Rocky is Peterson’s classic range, primarily the basic entry level pipes from the brand. However, what interested me was the letter denoting the year of production. I forwarded a picture of the hallmarks to my friend and mentor, Steve Laug who promptly confirmed that the letter denotes the year 1960!!

Knowing the fact that the K & P factory sends hundreds of such sterling silver bands to the Dublin essay office for hallmarking that are to be used over a period, still dates this pipe to early 1960s.

The pipe, as it sits on my work table, is dirty with a thick layer of cake in the chamber while the stummel is covered in dust and grime with a heavily oxidized stem. Here are a few pictures of the pipe before I proceed with a detailed visual inspection of each part of the pipe. The rusticated stummel on this pipe is covered in a thick layer of dust and grime of nearly 58 years of use and uncared storage. The stummel appears dull and lackluster. The rusticated rim top surface is also covered in dust, lava overflow and will need to be cleaned and polished. The rich brown hues of the raised portions of the rustications contrast beautifully with the darker hues of the stummel. The stummel has a very subtle, yet discernible outward flaring rim cap which lends it its classical shape. There is a very strong smell to the cake which, perhaps, may reduce appreciably after the chamber has been cleaned. The chamber has a thick cake, which I have come to expect from all my inherited pipes, with lava overflow on the rusticated rim top surface. The cake is thick enough to prevent my little finger from going in to the chamber. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber will be ascertained once the existing cake has been taken down to the bare briar. The rusticated rim top surface has thick, dried and crumbling overflow of lava. The inner and outer rim edges appear to be in good condition, however, the same will be ascertained once the cake and lava overflow from the chamber and rim top is removed. The mortise is filled with oils and tars and specks of dried ash and tobacco is seen on the walls of the mortise. The sump is filled with dried oils, tars and gunk. Though the draught hole is open, the draw is restricted and should improve further once the shank internals and the mortise is thoroughly cleaned out. The shank face shows some nicks and chips. I shall subsequently take a call on its repairs since this damage does not, in anyway, affect the aesthetics and functionality of the pipe.The sterling silver band at the shank end is, characteristically blackened due to heavy oxidation. The saving grace is that it is intact and undamaged.The fishtailed smooth vulcanite stem is heavily oxidized with hardened calcification in the bite zone. Surprisingly, there are only a few tooth indentations on the button edge and chatter on either surfaces of the stem. The horizontal slot end of the stem is heavily oxidized to a dark brown coloration while the tenon end is covered in dried oils and tars. The tenon end also shows a number of mysterious nicks which do not affect the seating of the tenon in to the mortise and as such will be left as it is. This should be a relatively simple cleaning up job of the stem. THE PROCESS
I began the process of refurbishing this pipe by reaming the chamber with a Castleford reamer tool, using the first, second and third head. Using my fabricated knife; I further took the cake down to the bare briar. With a 150 grit sand paper, the walls of the chamber were rid of all the remnants of the cake, revealing smooth chamber walls. I further wiped the chamber with a cotton swab wetted with isopropyl alcohol to completely remove the residual carbon dust. The inner rim edge is in good condition. I scraped the shank internals with a fabricated tool to remove all the crud that had accumulated along the shank walls and further cleaned it with bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl alcohol. The sump was cleaned using q-tips wetted with isopropyl alcohol. I also cleaned the sump with rolled paper napkins. A few hours later and after a lot of patience, elbow grease and q-tips, the sump is finally cleaned to a great extent. I shall further draw out all the residual oils, tars and gunk by subjecting the chamber and the shank to a salt and alcohol bath.I continued the cleaning of the chamber and shank internals with a salt and alcohol bath. I use cotton balls which is an at par substitute as I have realized over the years. I draw out a wick from the cotton and along with a folded regular pipe cleaner; insert it in to the mortise and through the draught hole in to the chamber. Thereafter, I packed the chamber with cotton balls to about quarter of an inch below the rim inner edge and soaked the cotton balls with isopropyl alcohol up to the brim. About half an hour later, the level of alcohol had gone down, having being absorbed by the cotton. I topped it up once again and set it aside overnight. By next afternoon, the cotton and alcohol had drawn out all the remaining oils and tars from the chamber and mortise, fulfilling its intended task. I removed the cotton balls and ran pipe cleaners through the mortise to clean out all the loosened tars and gunk. Using my fabricated tool, I scraped out the entire loosed gunk from the sump and further cleaned it with alcohol and q-tips. The chamber now smells clean and fresh. I set the stummel to dry out naturally. While the chamber was soaking in the salt and alcohol bath, I worked the stem, starting with cleaning the internals of the stem using pipe cleaners with isopropyl alcohol (99.9% pure) and dunking the stem in to “Before and After Deoxidizer” solution developed by my friend Mark Hoover. The solution helps to draw out heavy oxidation to the surface making its subsequent removal a breeze, while minor oxidation is eliminated to a very great extent. I usually dunk stems of 5-7 pipes that are in-line for restoration and this Donegal Rocky #999 is marked in red arrow. I generally allow the stems to soak in this solution overnight for the solution to do its work.Now that the internals of the stummel were cleaned, I scrubbed the external surface of the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s oil soap and hard bristled tooth brush. I deliberately cleaned the rim top surface with a soft bristled brass wire brush to remove the entire lava overflow and dried it using paper towels and soft cotton cloth. The light brown hues of the raised rustications contrast beautifully with the rest of the dark stummel. I set the stummel aside to dry out naturally. I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to briar. I rubbed this balm deep in to the sandblasts with my fingers and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the light brown hues of the raised rustications contrasting with the dark stummel surface. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. As mentioned in the write up on refurbishing S & R, I had worked on the stems that had been soaking in the deoxidizer solution overnight. I fished out all the stems and cleaned them under running warm water and scrubbed the raised oxidation from the stem surface using Scotch Brite pad. I further removed the oxidation by scrubbing the stems with 0000 grade steel wool and applied a little olive oil to rehydrate the stems and set them aside for the oil to be absorbed. Unfortunately, I did not click any pictures of these stems at this stage.

This is how the stem of this pipe came out after the stem cleaning described above. Some traces of oxidation are still visible at the base of the button edges on both surfaces which needs to be removed using more invasive methods. A few minor tooth indentations are visible on the top button edge and at the base of the button edge on the lower surface. I painted both surfaces of the stem with the flame of a lighter to raise the tooth chatter and bite marks to the surface. This also helps in loosening minor oxidation from the stem surface. I sand the entire stem surface with a folded piece of a 220 grit sand paper to remove the loosened oxidation. I wiped the stem with a cotton swab and Murphy’s oil soap to further remove the oxidation. Even though the most of the tooth indentations have been eliminated by heating the damaged stem portion with the flame of a lighter, one deep indention is seen on upper and lower surface in the bite zone. However, I am happy with the way this stem appears at this stage and also with the deoxidizer solution. I filled the tooth indentation in the button edge on lower and upper stem surface with a mix of activated charcoal and CA superglue and set it aside for the fill to cure. Once the fill had cured sufficiently, with a tightly folded piece of 220 grit sand paper, I sanded down the fill to match with rest of the stem surface. With the same piece of sand paper, I sharpened the button edge on the upper surface.I further sand the stem with 600 and 800 grit sand paper. I wiped the stem with cotton pad dipped in alcohol to remove the resultant dust. I rubbed some extra virgin olive oil in to the stem and set it aside to be absorbed in to stem. I polished the stem with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I rubbed a little extra virgin olive oil in to the stem at the end of all the micromesh pads. I finish the polishing of the stem by rubbing a small quantity of Paragon wax and giving it a final polish with a soft cotton cloth. The stem is now nice, smooth and shiny. I cleaned the Sterling Silver shank band with a local compound that Abha, my wife, uses to polish her silver and gold jewelry and cutlery. This compound is a very fine powder and is least abrasive with fantastic results. The results were appreciated by Steve during his visit to India. The band is now a nice shining piece of silver and provides a nice contrast to the shining black stem and the dark brown stummel. Unfortunately, I missed out on taking pictures as I was keen to finish this pipe and enjoy a bowl!

To apply the finishing touches, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and apply a coat of Blue Diamond to the stem to polish out the minor scratches. With a cotton buffing wheel that I use for carnauba wax, I apply a coat of carnauba wax to the stummel and stem and continued to work on it till the complete coat of wax had been polished out. I mount a clean cotton cloth buffing wheel and gave the entire pipe a once over buff. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The finished pipe is shown below. P.S. – Since the completion of this restoration, I have smoked this pipe and included it in my rotation. Believe you me; this pipe smokes perfect with a nice, smooth draw right to the end. No wonder then that this pipe would have been one of my grandfather’s favorite given the thick cake and calcified stem!! I am really privileged to have had an opportunity to carry forward the trust that my grandfather had posed in his pipes. Thanks for your patience and looking forward to inputs about the write up. Cheers…

2 thoughts on “Refurbishing An Inherited Pete Donegal Rocky # 999 Rhodesian Pipe.

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